30 March 2020

Rainbows of solidarity and hope

Hannah Brown, Campaigns and Church Engagement Officer, The Joint Public Issues Team

We live in turbulent times. Over the past few months, the coronavirus pandemic has flooded not only the UK but the world. In the UK we have retreated to our homes for safekeeping, hoping to weaken the rising tide. But in doing so, we have found ourselves in isolation, unable to turn to those familiar things in which we usually find comfort and refuge. We have been set at sea.

This isolation has been challenging, particularly for those for whom home is not a safe space, or for whom home does not exist in the traditional form. Without a clear plan for what lies ahead, it can be difficult to find hope on the horizon.

But in Bristol, rainbows have been appearing. Across the city, and more widely across the country, people have been encouraged to make, draw, create and share images of rainbows, placing them in their front windows for children to spot as they head out on their daily exercise. For many, they have become a sign of solidarity and hope, a glimpse of light breaking in.

For Christians, this image isn’t new, but an old reminder of in whom our hope is anchored. In Genesis, God offers the rainbow to Noah in response to a story that is not joy-filled, but filled with pain and challenge.

After the whole world is turned upside down by change, Noah and his family are cast at sea, waiting for a sign. Following a long time of waiting, God offers Noah and his family and all the living things with them refuge on dry land, stemming the rising tide of the sea. And, in response to the pain they have endured, God anchors a big, bold message in the sky, declaring a covenant promise between God and every living creature on the earth. Painting light into colour, God declares a promise so that all might see, and know that love remains.

Last Saturday, before the lockdown, I spent the afternoon at Eastville Park Methodist Church, Bristol with my family, painting a rainbow onto the church window. The church is on a busy street, and the window is often used to share messages with the community. Now, it has joined with other front windows around the city in expressing a sign of hope.

In the community around Eastville Park Methodist Church, it has been tricky to know how to respond in the first instance to the crisis. The community is home to many people who might be considered ‘vulnerable’ under the circumstances, and also many for whom resources are scarce, and support form food banks and community groups is vital.

For some, existing networks of support will step in at this time, including the local food banks and social services. However, when the community has been dispersed and pushed into isolation, it can be hard to connect with those who might not be linked in to existing networks of support. Without community hubs and places to go for help, it’s tricky to help those for whom the darkness is a very tangible reality at this time.

Challenges like this will remain over the coming weeks and months. Unexpected difficulties will continue to emerge. But as we begin, painting a rainbow seems like the right place to start.

Through it we are reminded of God’s declaration of love so big it finds out even those who are hard to reach and says ‘there’s enough for you too’. A promise of a future, that never again will the rising tide become so overwhelming that we are unable to find safety. A promise that over and above the turbulence of the earth, there is a love in which we can anchor our trust. There is a God who offers light in the darkness.

As we learn how to respond to the emerging challenges of this time, as Christians and as a Church might we return to this promise. As we love practically, might we offer refuge by supporting services providing help to those in need. As we love compassionately, might we offer comfort through conversation to those whose home still feels like a place shaken by the waves, embodying God’s love and presence in our words. And as we love like God loves us, might we join with people in their sorrow and challenge, recognising their lament and offering a glimpse of light.

You can find guidance from the Methodist Church on serving neighbours and speaking with friends here

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